Settlement community seeks county historic designation
preservation-admin , June 22, 2021
The map of the Phillips Community shows the community’s boundaries.
One of the oldest planned settlement communities in Charleston County looks to add its name to a new list. The Phillips Community, located off U.S. Highway 41 near Horlbeck Creek in Mount Pleasant, is in the process of becoming a registered historic district in the county.
At the planning/public works committee meeting on June 17, many Charleston County councilmembers showed support for the proposed historic district. However, questions arose specifically regarding the overall purpose of being added to the list and private property rights for owners.
The map represents property in the Phillips Community that is requesting removal from the historic designation.
There are four properties that requested removal from the proposed historic district, which would include 54 parcels removed. One property owner in the Phillips Community told the council that he has had trouble selling his property because potential buyers are scared away when the topic of historic designation is brought up.
Councilmembers discussed deferring the process for 30 days to allow for more time to review the details and receive legal input on private property rights. Due to the already lengthy process of three separate readings before making a final vote, the council decided to continue with the process on the normal schedule.
The discussion will continue at three readings on June 22, July 27 and August 31. The council will have the option to vote on a 30-day or 60-day deferral at any of the readings to allow for extra time.
The Phillips Community residents are requesting the historic designation to protect the historic, family-owned land for future generations. The Phillips Community dates back to 1875 when land from the Phillips Plantation was sold to freed men and women after the Civil War, according to the historic designation application. Today, the majority of the lands purchased by the freed families are owned by their heirs.
“My grandmother’s father and his peers purchased property less than 15 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. We want to preserve this property, so we can have it for our children,” said Jonathan Ford, a Phillips Community resident.
The community has a rich history in the Sweetgrass basket making tradition that is characteristic of the Lowcountry. Some Phillips Community residents continue to operate basket stands along Highway 17.
“These communities are an important part of the cultural landscape of the Lowcountry as freed men and women began forging autonomous political and economic paths in the post-Civil War era,” said Cashion Drolet, the chief advocacy officer with Historic Charleston Foundation at the Charleston County Council meeting on June 8.
One unique element of the community is that the boundaries of the proposed historic district mirror the shape and composition of the original 1875 map. “Recent survey work of the community indicates that survey boundaries of the original plat are still remarkably evident in present day Phillips,” said Drolet.
Today, the Phillips Community mainly contains single-family residences, mobile homes and undeveloped land.
The Phillips Community has been a topic of discussion relating to the Highway 41 widening project. Many residents in the Phillips Community oppose widening Highway 41 through the community because it will increase car traffic and be less safe for pedestrians. Richard Habersham, the Phillips Community Association president and resident of the community, said the increase of traffic in the area came from new developments and was not due to the historic community which has been there for generations, so the Phillips Community should not have to bear the burden of the road widening through their community.
At the June 17 meeting, council members made the point that adding the Phillips Community to the Charleston County historic district registry will not affect decisions made on the highway project.
To be considered for historic designation in Charleston County, a district has to meet one of 11 criteria and the Phillips Community meets four of the criteria, according to the application. Since the proposed historic district meets the qualifications, the Charleston County Historic Preservation Commission recommended approval with a 7-0 vote at the May 18 meeting.
The Phillips Community is also in the process of being added to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, with the help of the Phillips Community Association, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Coastal Conservation League and the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Adding the Phillips Community to Charleston County’s list of historic districts will “elevate the story of Phillips on both the local and national levels” said Erin Minnigan, the director of historic preservation with the Preservation Society of Charleston.
“Given the mounting pressure from growth and development surrounding Phillips, we feel this is a critical time to designate it as a historic district to help protect it for future generations,” said Minnigan.
At the Charleston County Council meeting on June 8, seven people spoke in favor of designating the Phillips Community as a historic district at the county level and none spoke in opposition.
“Our community is a small community, but like all of us, we have a history. It’s a proud history,” said Fred Smalls, a Phillips Community resident, at the meeting.
The county received 95 letters of support with 33 letter from non-residents and 21 letters in opposition by the time of the June 8 meeting. Many letters in opposition expressed the idea that the historic designation would be used as a ploy in the Highway 41 widening project and others questioned the relevance of the history of the Phillips Community. Additionally, some letters stated that historic designation would prevent homeowners from doing renovations of their property.